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Simon Cowell would like to make one thing perfectly clear: if you are a straight white male over the age of 15, he really doesn’t have much need for you.
The confirmation of Britney Spears as a new judge on “X Factor,” as well as the relatively surprising announcement that she and returning judge L.A. Reid will be joined by Demi Lovato shows very clearly that Cowell is serious about snaring the 12-34 female demo and not much else. Of course, all of these talent shows are geared toward females anyway, so Cowell is not even pretending that he means otherwise anymore.
This is, of course, despite the fact that “X Factor” includes the positively generic “Over 30” group.
So how do we see this playing out? L.A. Reid will be the voice of criticism on the show— and if we’re going to give them an “American Idol” analog— the Randy Jackson. Remember when Jackson was the lightweight panelist on “Idol?” Now he’s positively a Thor-sized hammer of sound critique compared to Jennifer Lopez, who will be played by the part of Demi Lovato on “X Factor,” and Steven Tyler, who will be played by Spears.
After the first season on U.S. television didn’t deliver the ratings he’d bragged endlessly about, Cowell knew he had to shake things up. Out went judges Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger and host Steve Jones and in are Lovato/Spears and a host to be named later.
Not that we expected anything sage or profound from their comments at the official announcement, but they did nothing to quell my doubts that Spears and Lovato will look at the artists and mutter encouragements that offer little in the way of true instruction.
Spears talked about how “fun” the experience will be and how she’s ready to find the “true star.” Lovato said she was “excited to represent my generation.” And, well, L.A. Reid, who has worked with some truly exquisite talents as a songwriter, producer and record head, said, “I’m the luckiest guy on the planet, standing new to these three. This is the Rolls Royce of television right here.” Come again? Did he turn into a pillar of salt after he said that?
We’ve already expressed our doubts about Spears’ ability to provide any meaningful commentary here, in part because we simply don’t remember anything truly insightful ever coming out of her mouth during an interview. And, furthermore, as many of the commenters said on my original piece, is someone who has to lip sync her way through her live show the best person to judge a contest that features artists performing live? But she does bring with her more than 20 million friends on Facebook and 16 million Twitter followers, making her a one-woman promo machine.
So what about 19-year-old Lovato? She’s been on TV since she was a tot on “Barney & Friends,” and then on her own Disney show, “Sonny With A Chance.” She’s breaking out of the Disney camp, but while under its reign, she showed to be an actress with a nice comedic style and her voice is a strong pop one. “X Factor” accepts contestants as young as 12, which means that many of the younger applicants will have grown up with Lovato.
Here’s what else they have in common: both present as very sympathetic people who have been through their own shares of issues lately in a very public and cruel arena and have seemingly bounced back with admirable resilience. Other than making them compassionate to other people’s struggles, I’m not sure how that qualifies them to be judges, but I know that some folks will be tuning in simply to see if Spears is a trainwreck or if she is cogent, and to see if Lovato is as fragile before the camera as she has hinted in some interviews that she may be. Even though I know that’s how the game is played, it doesn’t make it any easier to stomach.
Lovato has turned her struggles into a campaign to help fellow teenage girls realize they don’t have to be “perfect” by Hollywood’s impossibly strict standards. If she applies her mentoring through that filter, she could bring a very interesting and valuable perspective to the proceedings. But my fear is that both will be so sensitive to the pain they have gone through that they will be reduced to little more than “good job!” for fear of hurting someone. They’ll have to learn the difference between being mean and giving truly constructive criticism in order to be effective judges.
They will have a very short grace period to prove they have wisdom from their decades of experience to impart or are going to be so entertaining that their lack of anything meaningful to say doesn’t matter. Lovato has impressed me in interviews as someone relatable and smart, so, while she’s still incredibly young for such a gig, she is absolutely used to the rigors of a weekly TV show.
Time and time again, I come down to Spears being the weak link here...and the main draw.
We’ll be watching when the new season bows this fall.
Will you watch to see how Spears and Lovato fare?